Maren Fander, Logopädin, ist unser 2017 "Professional Au Pair of the Year"

Herzlichen Glückwunsch an Maren Fander, Logopädin von der SRH Fachschule für Gesundheit, Gera

23. Januar 2017 remove_red_eye 3.045 Views

MarenMeet apex PROaupair's Professional Au Pair of the Year Maren Fander from the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany and a graduate of SRH Fachschule für Gesundheit, Gera.

Maren, a 26 year old Speech Therapist has lived with the Lawrence family of Cottage Grove, Minnesota since May of 2016. In her host family's words, "Maren Fander is the epitome of a professional au pair and deserves to be recognized for her leadership, hard work ethic, creativity, and perseverance while working with our 6 year-old son, Hiroki, a high special needs child with many complex medical, social, cognitive, and physical needs. Her professional background as a speech therapist has helped Hiroki surpass the prognosis of his syndrome; she has opened a world of possibilities for Hiroki, our family, his school, and our community."

Read her family's nomination essay:

Hiroki is a unique child, 1 of 600 people in the world with Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a deletion affecting his 22nd chromosome. He is a non-verbal, severely cognitively delayed child (mental age estimated about 14 months old), diagnosed with Autism because of his deep need for repetition and routine, and Epilepsy. In addition, Hiroki has been diagnosed with over 15 medical disorders including Asthma, Autoimmune Dysfunction, Hypotonia (low muscle tone), Kidney Reflux, and Dysphagia (a swallowing disorder). He wears orthotics for stability when walking and uses a wheelchair for transportation and long outings. He wears diapers and all foods must be cut carefully to prevent choking. Many of Hiroki’s 22 medical specialists have been overwhelmed by the complexity of his needs, but Maren embraces him with her professional and personal philosophy: “I see him as a person. I don’t see him as his diagnoses or disabilities.”

Maren sets weekly goals for Hiroki, which center on independence, communication, and activities of daily living, and she works closely with Hiroki’s teachers and specialists to ensure there is a cooperative and collective effort to meet those goals. Hiroki will often cry inconsolably with any new activity or change in routine, so Maren created a summary of calming and refocusing techniques. For example: “Count from 1 to 10 slowly and then show him the visual schedule so he can see the sequence.” In this way, Hiroki’s agitation decreases and he can override his physical impulse to “run” and focus on the task at hand. Another example: “Ask him what he would like to do or where he would like to go. Wait for him to point and say that you understand what he wants.” This approach is possible because she taught him how to point with one finger and then taught him to point meaningfully in the direction that he wants to go. Maren is not only educating Hiroki, she is also educating his teachers, therapists and doctors. Maren consistently evaluates and pinpoints a need and then acts on her philosophy: “Focus on what he can do and use every opportunity to build on that.”

Maren has patiently and purposely used her professional knowledge as a speech therapist to open Hiroki’s world through communication. Before Maren arrived, Hiroki would cry for long periods of time in frustration because he could not regularly or reliably communicate his wants and needs to the “outside” world. Within a month of her arrival, Maren built upon his knowledge of the Picture Exchange System to program his iPad with the Go Talk program, an augmentative and alternative communication tool. She knew that his low muscle tone made it difficult for Hiroki to point to icons on the iPad with accuracy and force, so she used a blunt ended chopstick to rest in his palm. Knowing his greatest areas of interest (food), Maren taught him how to make a request by pointing to one picture. Now, he is able to string together 5 picture word sentence such as “I want to eat egg please.” Maren continues to adapt the Go Talk program so that Hiroki brings his iPad to school to communicate in all areas of his school life such as morning greeting, circle time, calendar, work time, and snack. Maren has reached one of her personal goals: “He is learning that communication goes two ways and he is a part of it. He has a voice now.”

Because of Maren, our family has experienced so many “firsts.” This Thanksgiving, we had our first family Thanksgiving together. Before Hiroki would have needed to go out for an afternoon activity since he could not stay calmly at home. This year for Thanksgiving and regularly throughout the week, we are able to eat dinner together as a family. He can sit during an entire meal whereas we used to give ourselves 5 minutes to eat before he became impatient. We were able to stay together as a family on Thanksgiving because Maren has increased his patience by mimicking the activities at school and incorporating physical, occupational, and speech therapy goals. We also had our first Lawrence Family Dance Party with all of us out of breath and beaming by the end of the song. Our most amazing “first” was traveling to Japan in July 2016 as a family so we could visit our Japanese relatives. Over the 18 hours of travel time, Maren kept Hiroki calm through the use of her homemade, adapted books such as The Hungry Little Caterpillar, singing, and cuddling. Although she was in a foreign country,she guided Hiroki through the streets of Tokyo,so he could enjoy the parks, zoos, and restaurants. Maren’s philosophy: “We will all grow when we are living our lives together. Hiroki must learn to be patient so we can have harmony.”

Maren has also helped Hiroki become more independent in our home and more safe in our community. Previously, Hiroki was considered a “runner” or “eloper,” not responding to his name and not stopping when in a parking lot, but now because of Maren’s training, Hiroki regularly responds to “Hiroki, please stop.  Come back.”  She teaches Hiroki to be independent in various areas of daily living.  Before Maren, we diapered Hiroki, clothed him, brushed his teeth and hair; he did not exhibit much self-sufficiency.  Maren taught Hiroki how to pull up his pants, put on his shirt, sit on a toilet, brush his own teeth, and put away his own clothing into labeled drawers. She also created a written routine for his bathtub so that while he is bathing, he is learning new vocabulary with his bath toys such as turtle, soap, and bucket.  Maren’s philosophy is true: “Every interaction is a chance to play and learn.”

Because of Maren Fander’s professionalism as a speech therapist, Hiroki’s world continues to open.  He is flourishing as he participates in new types of therapy and play:  horse therapy, aqua therapy, Miracle League Baseball, Adaptive Ski, and Special Olympics.   At the heart of Maren’s success is the tremendous love and hope she has for our special son, Hiroki.

Submitted by the Lawrence family of Cottage Grove, Minnesota

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